Saturday, 17 September 2011

Spread your tiny wings

Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a wonder to me. A wonder that I enjoyed it so much, bearing in mind that the pivotal event is handed, pre-announced, to the reader. The rest of the book circles around this event, delivered mostly in two narratives that move in towards it, away from it and then meeting back up at the end. I gave Testimony by Anita Shreve a low score and that followed a similar format. Why then is Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates a more enjoyable read?

I found the author’s style off-putting for the first few pages. This was the first of her books that I’ve read and the constant use of dashes for pauses and italics for emphasis nearly made me put it down. I’m glad that I didn’t. It soon became a book that I looked forward to picking up every chance I had.

Krista Diehl’s first person narrative is very touching. She recalls events over the course of several years, admitting her own naivety and showing how her intuition developed into perception during that time. Her absolute, unwavering faith in and love for her father is something that any man could only hope for. That man is on a clear path to doom and Oates tells the reader on the first page that Eddy Diehl will die in a hail of police bullets. What is gripping is the emotional turmoil the characters endure as the Diehl family is ripped apart by infidelity and false accusation. Sections of narrative are introduced e.g. a section from Eddy Diehl’s perspective during his initial police interrogation, that give valuable insight into his state of mind and the mistakes he makes.

Oates uses concentric story circles of two men, Eddy and Delray, hell-bent on self-destruction through their attraction to the ill-fated Zoe who ultimately betrays them both and leaves a poison legacy of suspicion. Outside of these two men run the stories of Eddie’s daughter, Krista, and Delray’s son, Aaron. Krista is described through her own thoughts and words. Aaron is described more in the physical sense initially. His dominant presence is tangible and Krista’s attraction to him seems terrible but logical.

As Aaron becomes older, his persona turns into Krull and this character comes to life through his actions and reflections. As he, in effect, loses his father, the character becomes more sympathetic and he moves into a similar space as Krista. Both he and she have lost their fathers and Jacky DeLucca’s confession brings them together years later. This reunification is also telegraphed early on by Oates, giving credence to what otherwise might seem an improbable turn of events.

I did have a problem with the Jacky DeLucca character. When Krista meets her for the first time, Jacky’s dialogue is very heavy and I felt like the story was being delivered through her mouth. The same with her confession at the end. She seemed too eloquent and I just wanted her to stop. It was obvious that the killer was one of Zoe’s murkier lovers and Jacky’s lengthy disclosure didn’t sound like a woman dying of liver cancer. That’s my only complaint.

To end on a high point, this has to be the first book I’ve read that ends with a sex scene and well done it is too. The requiting of eighteen years of lust is a fitting climax and it’s bittersweet. I’ll definitely try more from this author.


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  1. Love your review - this sounds a fascinating read. I have tried Oates a couple of times but found her hard to read. After reading your review I may give her another go.

  2. Thanks, Pat. Yep, the style is a bit quirky but I'm glad I persevered.